Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. North Gwinnett's Anna Mullins (9) puts the ball past Lassiter defenders Kaele Johnson (9) and Rebecca Arndt on Saturday.
SUWANEE — All good things are said to come to an end, but for North Gwinnett’s volleyball team, the end came too soon.
Playing in the Elite Eight for the first time in school history, North’s historic season ended Saturday afternoon as the Bulldogs fell to Lassiter in four games.
The win puts the Trojans into the semifinals Wednesday, while North ends its year at 45-4.
“Overall, it was a great season from beginning to end,” North head coach Vanessa Henry said. “Even though we missed our goal of the Final Four, I’m not going to let this one loss take away from what we’ve done this year.”
The Bulldogs got off to a fast start with a 25-11 win in Game 1, but the momentum of that win quickly faded as the Trojans rallied to take the next three games.
“We’ve never seen (North) play before and all we had to go was what we had heard about them,” Lassiter head coach Greg Hodge said. “In the first game, we made several errors and I felt like we weren’t ready to play. We came out in the second game and started playing our game.”
Kelsey Knudsen of North helped the Bulldogs get off to a strong start in the opening game by recording four of her 13 kills in the win. However, Lassiter was able to focus on defense in the final three games to slow down North’s power game.
“We moved the blocking around a little,” Hodge said. “We never really shut (Knudsen) down, but I was real pleased.”
Lassiter tied the match with a 25-21 win in Game 2. The game was pretty even with Lassiter leading 15-13 when the Trojans put together a 9-4 run to go ahead 24-17.
North was able to stave off the Trojans with four straight points to cut the score to 24-21, but Knuden’s attempt at a kill sailed long, ending the game in Lassiter’s favor.
The third game was similar one as both squads battled back and forth. Neither team mounted any serious scoring run. Then with Lassiter holding a slim 19-17 lead, the Trojans closed out the pivotal third game with a 6-1 spurt, taking the game 25-18 when Carly Crowder (who finished with nine kills) blocked Miller Howard’s shot at the net.
With its back against the wall in Game 4, it looked like a fifth game was inevitable as the Bulldogs opened up a 17-14 lead. Alex Panks, who led North in assists with 25, played a huge role by feeding Knudsen and Kristina Stinson, who finished with 10 kills, to take the lead.
Lassiter weathered the charge and battled back to tie the score at 21-21. The two teams traded points, eventually knotting it at 24-24, when Lassiter scored the last two points on a long hit by North and a kill by Rebecca Arndt (11 digs, nine kills) on an overpass for the win.
“We fought so hard, we really did,” Knudsen said. “It’s hard to lose, even to a good team like Lassiter. We’re such a close-knit group, it’s heartbreaking.”
Virginia Hannah also had a strong game for North with 23 digs, while Michelle DeMaris added 18.
“I was a freshman on varsity and we improved so much since then,” said DeMaris, who is one of five Bulldog seniors. “We just decided to start working harder and the team spirit really came on.”
Hannah, another of North’s graduating seniors, echoed those sentiments.
“We were just more willing to put in more time,” Hannah said. “I have no regrets.”